What makes us less immune?
by Building Inspector and Indoor Air Specialist, Dan Schilling
© Copyright 2002 Residential Inspections LLC, All Rights Reserved
Today, people are understandably concerned about maintaining healthy immune systems. We are paying greater attention to the quality of the food we eat and the cleanliness of the water we drink, knowing their importance to our immune systems. This article, however, is about the relationship of our immune systems to the air we breathe, which is literally the most important nutrient in life. I was prompted to write on this subject because of a new medical theory which I had heard expressed at an asthma convention. This new theory is concerning partly because of its lack of rational, but of greater concern is the fact that some physicians consider this theory plausible and now share this theory with the general public, including those who suffer from allergies and asthma.
Perhaps with the utmost best of intentions, these physicians are suggesting that our indoor environments have become so sterile from the use of such things as efficient vacuum cleaners, disinfectants, air conditioning, etc., that our immune systems are under-exposed and thereby becoming weakened and compromised. This new train of thought goes so far as to suggest that these supposed sterile environments in our homes and workplaces could be the reason for such epidemic numbers of people suffering from allergies, asthma and many other immune related illnesses. These well-intending physicians simply do not understand building construction, or its relationship to our modern indoor environments. Because the correlation between our health and the structures we live in is so closely tied, I hope that this area of expertise will someday become part of medical training.
As a building inspector, I have also been privileged to work with clients who have suffered from immune related illnesses. These illnesses however, appear to be directly tied to indoor air pollution. Understanding indoor air as I do, I must say that even the visually cleanest of homes are anything but sterile. In fact, I believe this new “sterile theory” is not only without merit, but if it is not exposed, may serve to sicken people further, increasing their dependence on drugs and physicians.
Giving the medical community the benefit of the doubt, I can somewhat understand the origin of this new thinking. For instance, we know that as babies, our developing immune systems grow stronger after being exposed to certain substances and organisms. Additionally, the government approves the medical practices of injecting the human body with anti-bodies, artificial flu virus', or even snake venom, oddly enough to protect us from things like bacteria, flu virus' and snake venom. So we know there can be some physiological benefit for our immune systems through the exposure to foreign substances. The question is, “should we use this same strategy regarding the quality of the air we breathe”? To ask this more succinctly, “are our immune systems becoming weaker because they are being “under-exposed” to indoor pollutants”? For example, we know that the 25% of the population who are smokers of tobacco products, do not seem to be bothered much while in smoky environments or from breathing second hand smoke. Does this mean that the non-smoking, 75% of the population should start breathing smoke, to protect ourselves from smoke? According to this new sterile theory there could be an ounce of truth in this, but certainly not more than an ounce. The preponderance of evidence shows us that the act of smoking and/or breathing second hand smoke can directly cause cancer and other severe health ailments. So, what then is best for our immune systems?
Understanding indoor air as I do, it is my contention that our immune systems are being compromised not because we are under exposed, but from being “overwhelmed” by polluted indoor environments which are loaded with airborne contaminants. Consider people living in an environment of fresh clean air, such as we find outdoors in nature. We know that in these conditions, people who breathe this fresh clean air generally feel better and are much healthier. They do not suffer ill health affects from breathing air which is being constantly purified by nature. This is precisely why we all go “out” for fresh air. Our bodies intuitively recognize the need for this clean, purified air.
We now know from research that people breathe very little fresh air today, spending on average 90% of their time in air-tight, sealed-up, indoor environments like homes, schools and office buildings. These indoor environments have air which is commonly laden with indoor air contaminants. Contaminants which can include excessive amounts of chemical gasses continually emitted from man-made building materials, chemicals from deodorizers, cleaning products and aerosols, biological contaminants such as bacteria, molds, dust mites and mite excrement, as well as, floating, microscopic dust particles made up of a variety of unhealthy substances. Studies have shown that this indoor air can be between five times, to as much as seventy times more polluted than the air outdoors. This mixed soup of indoor pollution is then inhaled breath after breath after breath, up to 2,500 gallons of this air or approximately 22,000 breaths, per day, per person. People are experiencing long lists of illnesses and have even died from repeatedly breathing the same rancid air found in houses and buildings. In fact, indoor air related illnesses are becoming epidemic in proportion. This epidemic is manifested through the sheer volume of advertisements for allergy and asthma drugs seen in newspapers, magazines and on television. There are more ads today for drugs to help people breathe than for any other drug. Indoor air has been proclaimed to be a #1 health concern by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and major health organizations.
These facts should dispel this unproven theory of sterile environments and help us understand how our immune systems are truly being compromised. It is my sincere belief, that our bodies are becoming sick and tired of breathing these unnatural substances and are doing everything in their power to reject airborne contaminants through natural body functions. These functions of rejection first appear as sneezing, watering eyes, runny noses, coughing and other allergic reactions. When these natural forms of rejection are not heeded as warning signs or are masked over with medications, our bodies can become over powered by the constant inhalation of indoor air pollutants. Our bodies can then suffer from other physical illnesses including chronic headaches, infections in the eyes, ears and sinus', tiredness, fatigue, memory loss, learning disabilities, behavior problems, snoring, and a variety of respiratory disorders. The most severe form of rejection to indoor air pollutants is asthma attacks. With asthma, the body rejects the invading pollutants to the degree of restricting or shutting down the airways, resulting in emergency situations, and all too often, deaths. People with asthma can also become so sensitive that their bodies can no longer differentiate between harmless or harmful substances. The reaction becomes the same to both and can now occur indoors or out. The asthmatic then lives in a constant state of fear, not knowing what will trigger their next reaction or where.
I believe the first line of defense for most sufferers of allergic symptoms and other air related illness, should be indoor air quality education. Sources of pollution should be reduced or eliminated where possible, along with better cleaning practices and proper indoor air purification. Because I have seen first hand the relief people experience after addressing their indoor air, I believe that both surgery and drug use should only be considered as a last option or for emergency purposes.
In closing, please do not misconstrue this article as an attempt to downplay the importance of the need for medical doctors or as a suggestion to discontinue prescribed medications. The purpose of this article is to expose a false theory and simultaneously express the clear relationship between the compromise of the immune system and the continual exposure to and inhalation of indoor air contaminants.
with those you care about.